In Concert

I was thinking about the word concert recently. A very common word, but it struck me that, like so many others, we use it in different ways without really noticing.

The most common way we use it is to refer to a musical performance, usually in a large venue. And of course we also use it refer to acts being performed together: doing something in concert. I began to wonder why we use it in these two different ways, and suspected that the heart of the matter lay with the second use of the word.

Con- is a common prefix denoting togtherness (conversation, concentric, concordant), and is the Spanish and Italian word for with, coming from the Latin com-. Still, that doesn’t have much to do with music, does it?

Thinking about it a bit more, I imagined that concert was initially used to distinguish a performance by a group of musicans performing together, as opposed to a solo performance.

And I was almost right, except that it probably originally referred to a series of solo performances one after another, but still, overall, together.

Of course, as is always the case, the word evolved a little over time, and it now refers to any large-scale performance, either by a solo artist or group. There’s a gap then, between the word’s original sense of togetherness, and using it to refer to a solo performance. Funnily enough though, if you insist on the use of the word relating to its etymology, it’s still fairly logical. Unless no-one shows up, a concert, even a solo performance, brings people together in their shared enjoyment of the performance.

Word meanings always change, but things come full circle like that.

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